Spent yesterday at Harper's Ferry with 130 middle schoolers. It was supposed to rain all day, but we lucked out--it drizzled all day, and then rained torrentially the last hour we were there. After the downpour the park rangers hustled us onto the buses an hour before our scheduled departure. We think this was because the Potomac and Shenendoah rivers were already swollen, and they feared the worst was coming.
I ran into my school's Executive Director this morning, and she asked me about the trip. I told her that all the John Brown and watershed field work was nice, but the best part of the day for me was taking my crew of 7th grade boys across a bridge and over to the other side of the Shenendoah under a high craggy cliff face. A train was blasting by with a load of coal. We climbed down a set of steps to the river's edge, and I let them throw rocks in the water for 30 minutes. They made echoes off the cliff face. They skipped stones. They saw a heron, which sent them scurrying like the cast of Jurassic Park III when the pteradactyls show up. They climbed on rocks, and pointed at fish and turtles and salamanders.
90% of these kids have never been out of downtown Baltimore, excepting our fall trip to Northbay, where their time was totally structured. I thought of how much time I spent as a kid making echoes, throwing rocks in water, and watching animals in the wild, and I watched them making up for lost time. We could have spent that 30 minutes reflecting on Brown's fate in the engine house, but there are educational advantages to some slack time as well.
"On the bus ride over on route 70," I told the boss, "the boy I was sitting next to pointed at some horses in a field. He told me 'that don't look real. That look like a DVD, like some 3D shit.' He'd never seen a field, nor a horse before. When we got to the Appalachians some of the kids were freaked out. They couldn't process these hoary old chunks of forested rock bulging out of the Earth. It was like Petrarch's experience of Mount Ventoux. A whole new worldview opened up."
The Boss started tearing up, as she often does, as many of the staff does at my hippy dippy charter school. "That's the kind of story that reminds me why I do this," she said.